Ten days away from kickoff, James Franklin and the Nittany Lions aren’t focusing on themselves anymore.
“We’re into Akron now,” Franklin said of Penn State’s Sept. 2 opponent.
That means the coaching staff is starting to lock down the depth chart.
The official first- and second-team won’t be announced until next week. Whether that’s at Franklin’s first Tuesday press conference or the day before the game is not yet known.
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However, the portion of Wednesday’s light practice open to media and the interviews that followed gave a glimpse into how Franklin and his staff are thinking leading up to the opener.
“We’ve got a pretty good idea now where we’re at,” the head coach said. “What you saw today is probably a good indicator of what our depth chart will look like. We won’t officially make those decisions until next week. But we’re close.”
On the offensive line — as expected — Connor McGovern is leading the way at center after moving from guard in the offseason. Ryan Bates is entrenched at tackle, and the same can be said for Brendan Mahon at right guard.
Senior tackle Andrew Nelson worked alongside Mahon, and Chasz Wright got plenty of work there, as well.
Sandwiched between McGovern and Bates at left guard was Steven Gonzalez. The 6-foot-4 redshirt sophomore, who made three starts in 2016, was complimented by Franklin.
“I think Gonzalez has shown some really good things at times, but hadn’t been as consistent in games and practices as he’s needed to be,” Franklin said, when asked about fall camp standouts. “He’s been much better in that area.”
Sticking with the offense, Penn State’s scheme will still require three wide receivers — two split out wide and one in the slot.
But even with Chris Godwin and his team-high 59 catches, 982 yards and 11 touchdowns gone, wide receivers coach Josh Gattis firmly believes six players can step up.
The position coach didn’t say who exactly those players were.
But Juwan Johnson was the talk of spring, while DaeSean Hamilton, DeAndre Thompkins and Saeed Blacknall have plenty of starting experience. Additionally, Brandon Polk — who missed last year to a season-ending injury — and Irvin Charles figure to work themselves into Gattis’ rotation.
“We’ve got a very talented room,” Gattis said. “We feel like we’ve got six guys that can go out and start for us. Possibly six guys that can start for any Big Ten team. ... It makes my job a little bit harder to figure out the rotation.”
On the defensive side of the ball, it appears defensive end Torrence Brown has locked up a starting role. It was somewhat of a foregone conclusion already, but Franklin lumped him in with Saquon Barkley, Jason Cabinda and Marcus Allen in the “we know who they are” crew on Wednesday.
In the secondary, Franklin mentioned Christian Campbell as someone to watch out for — not at all a surprise.
What was interesting was the coach’s backing of senior safety Troy Apke. In a position battle where Ayron Monroe is the most athletic candidate, Franklin made sure to note his expectations for Apke in 2017.
“Apke is a guy that’s going to have a tremendous year for us,” the coach said.
We’ll see if Franklin’s confidence in Apke, Gonzalez and others are reflected next week when the official depth charts are released.
Franklin discusses contract extension
For the first time since his contract was extended on Friday, Franklin addressed the media.
For him, the six-year amended deal that runs through 2022 is all about stability.
“We’ve started to build something here that can really be special,” Franklin said. “It provides stability obviously for my family, but it also provides stability for our assistant coaches and their families. It provides stability for our players. It provides stability in recruiting.”
Franklin thinks Penn State has made “tremendous progress” since he took over in January 2014.
And the coach believes his extension allows the program to continue in the direction it’s heading.
“Me and my wife were kind of talking about how much things have changed in three years,” Franklin said. “Some of the messages that I got from current players, former players, former athletic directors were really pretty good and pretty special. ... I’m blessed and fortunate to be here, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
McSorley appreciative of Moorhead’s support
At Penn State’s media day on Aug. 5, Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead stood up for his quarterback.
Calling the narrative of McSorley and his offense blindly chucking it deep “ridiculous at best” and “asinine at worst,” Moorhead was pointed and annoyed.
McSorley appreciated his coordinator’s backing.
“Obviously it meant a lot to me to have him go to bat for me, instill confidence in me and the whole offense,” the Big Ten Championship Game MVP said. “To know that your offensive coordinator’s going to put himself out there and defend everyone on the field, it’s great for the team.”
McSorley said he didn’t acknowledge the growing narrative throughout the season; he was too focused on winning games.
But the redshirt junior knew it got under Moorhead’s skin.
“For him, he felt like people were saying his offense is just to step back and throw it deep. Like, let’s call a deep shot and hope it works,” McSorley said. “How he draws up plays, he’s the best coordinator I’ve ever been around.”